Number Systems Part 3 – Babylonian Numerals

Before the widespread usage of the Arabic number system, there were other ways to represent numbers. Let’s look at Babylonian Numerals.

The Babylonians are one of the earliest cultures in human history. Babylonian scribes used reed styluses and clay tablets to write. As a result their number system has two symbols:

1 = babylonian 1 and 10 = babylonian 10

These two symbols are then combined to produced 59 different symbols to represent 1 to 59. For example number 3 is represented as babylonian 3, 7 as babylonian 7 and 19 as babylonian 19. All 59 numerical symbols are shown bellow.

babylonian numbers
Babylonian Numbers from 1 to 59. Numbers larger then 60 are formed similar to large numbers in the Arabic system except each digit represents a multiple of a power of 60 not 10.

Numbers larger than 60, numbers are represented slightly differently. Babylonian numbers are base 60 which means that each digit is a power of 60. The number 65 for example is written as babylonian 65, which means 60 + 5 . The number 3661 can be written as babylonian 3661 which means 3600 + 60 + 1

Fun fact, the numbers 1 and 60 share the same symbol since the Babylonians didn’t have a symbol for 0. Confusion for this was avoided due to the context where these numbers were used. The number 3600 has an additional symbol resulting in: babylonian 3600 to prevent further confusion.

Sources Used